On Plato’s Republic and Just Societies

I see Plato’s book, Republic, as logic-based epistemology applied to political philosophy. Anyway, that would be my claim in my undergraduate Philosophy 101 essay on Plato.

The conceptual range of “logic” and “epistemology” and “politics” in Plato’s Republic is that of a sophisticated and prosperous well-educated aristocrat of late 5th Century and early 4th Century BCE Athenian-Greek society. That conceptual range is free of prehistoric animism, and Asiatic and Celtic mysticism; it is solidly materialistic and absent any “depth psychology” of the type that would be popularized by Sigmund Freud and C. G. Jung (the psychology of the “unconscious”). That conceptual range is also absent any qualms about hierarchical society structured on hereditarily-conferred class-based social status and functional roles, and which includes slavery.

So it is easy to see Plato’s Republic as the stone at the center of the plump fruit that is Western Philosophy with its inner flesh of Christian mythology and irrationality — which appropriated, subsumed, reformulated and blended prior pagan myths and mysticisms to serve the needs of temporal political hierarchy — its middle layer of Renaissance and Enlightenment rationalism, and with its outer flesh and skin covering as later envelopments by early 19th Century Romanticism — emotionalism — and late 19th Century Nietzschean anti-religious intellectualism, Freudian-Jungian depth psychology as a substitute for discredited and discarded Christian metaphysics, and the proletarian-socialist consciousness engendered by industrialization.

As 20th and 21st Century individuals, parts of each of us live in various prior periods of the development of Western Consciousness, depending on the particulars of the arcs of our personal psychological, family, ethnic, cultural, educational, economic and political situations.

The slow inter-bleeding of Eastern and Western Thought, at least since the 19th century, has somewhat diluted both, more fundamentally in the East that has become quite enthusiastically capitalist since the 20th Century, than in the West that has added a minor flavoring of Eastern philosophy into the self-absorbed and self-indulgent aspects of its materialistic consumerist obsessiveness.

In his book, Republic, Plato lays out his political philosophy for the establishment and maintenance of a stable, well-ordered and just society. In his time societies were city-states, like Athens in the time of Socrates, Plato and Diogenes. The essential element of Plato’s scheme is the “guidance” of the city — “governing” is too strongly “micro-management” of a word — by a class of “guardians” who were carefully selected and trained from youth for the task, and who were wholly devoted to it for their lifetimes: basically philosopher-guru-priests.

However, I note that the viability of Plato’s political formulation for the construction and operation of just societies rests primarily on the incorruptible moral character of its central and guiding personnel, the guardians, and secondarily on the reasonably stable decency of behavior of the citizens: that is to say, their morality.

Please note that by “moral” I do not at all mean “religious”; there is no functional correlation between the two (and in my view more likely an anti-correlation).

At least since the end of the Neolithic, the idea developed that a stable, well-ordered society (whether just or unjust, but always to the liking of its rulers) could be established solely by political means, such as in: monarchies, parliamentary democracies, socialist and communists states (most pointedly those sharply Marxist materialist), and dictatorships (whether purely materialistic or theocratic).

By political I mean social arrangements for societal management that are constructions external to the individual person. Note that such political structures can include elements of physical compulsion on individual behavior, and elements of thought-control by indoctrination and propaganda to capture, shape and distort individual thought, and that such political structures will still be external to the individual as a moral being.

So, I do not believe it is possible to ensure the stable continuation of any momentarily just society, whatever its political structure, solely on the basis of the forced maintenance of that political structure, nor solely on the basis of a change of political structure whether that change is reformist or revolutionary. Justice as societal stability requires a taproot into incorruptible moral character by a majority of the citizens. Justice is good politics and good political structure, and is a natural outgrowth of good and intelligent morality, which in turn is individually personified as character.

Given the above, I believe that any social movement aiming to “permanently” evolve, reform or revolutionize a society in need of anything from improvement to drastic change in order to make it universally just, has to base its efforts on developing the moral character of its movement adherents and the mass of citizens it wishes to convince, for lifetime incorruptibility. Here, we have faith that a society with a majority of its citizens being of incorruptible moral character will ensure the continuation of such in succeeding generations, by the operation of its educational systems.

Of course any serious movement for social change will act politically whenever it can to counter existing injustices and respond to humanitarian emergencies. But it must never lose sight of its chronic fundamental task — instilling ethics — regardless of the frequency and variety of crisis flare-ups it reacts to during the daily spectacle.

Yes, this prescription for engineering permanent social change for the better is an idealization that may seem impossible to implement, as witnessed by the history of human civilization, but I think it is nevertheless true and has been the most powerful force that has helped bring about whatever degree of decency any of our human societies possesses today.

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Open Cycle Minds and Thermodynamic Socialism

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On 21 May 2021, Mark Ashwill’s excellent and moving article, “Of Class Rings, Bone Fragments and Fish Ponds: the Interminable Search for US MIAs in Vietnam,” was published (https://www.counterpunch.org/2021/05/21/of-class-rings-bone-fragments-fish-ponds-the-interminable-search-for-us-mias-in-vietnam/). It is about the searches by both Vietnamese and American groups for the unrecovered remains of those killed during the Vietnam War, while at the same time Americans continue to studiously avoid searching through their 20th century history to face up to its ongoing contortion of their 21st century national life. Think: Gaza in Palestine, May 2021, bombed Guernica-style by an unopposed Israeli military massively armed and lushly funded by the American Government.

“History does not repeat itself, but it rhymes,” (misattributed to Mark Twain, but actually from 1970).

It is my belief that 1968 was the most pivotal year in United States history after 1945. The commitment then to continue pursuing the Vietnam War, and the refusal ever since to face up to the consequences of it — unlike Germany’s postwar forthrightness about its 1933-1945 period — have doomed the U.S. to sink with increasing madness into the delusional path of “exceptionalism” it has been on since.

The last time there seemed a faint chance of breaking free from our American neo-fascist trajectory was 1976-1978, during the Carter Administration — and, yes, I know he was far from “perfect.”

I don’t think the U.S. will break free of its current delusional-ideological trajectory until it has fully come to terms with its Vietnam War history — and war crimes — and I mean by much more than just erecting a Black Wall.

The Amerindian Genocide, Black Slavery + Jim Crow, and the Vietnam War are in my view the three major American-perpetrated Holocausts. American “sleep” is shame-based denial of historical American reality. We as a nation could awaken from that sleep and transcend its underlying pathology, to such great benefit to everybody everywhere.

A good friend of mine is a 1966-1967 US Marine combat veteran of the Vietnam War, who survived much heavy combat and encirclement during the 1st Battle of Khe Sanh. He is the fiercest peacenik-socialist I’ve ever met, and also a really sweet gentle guy. He knows the truth.

And that truth is that official US Government ideology operates as an open cycle through the propagandized American Public Mind: we are not to “connect the dots” between what “we” have done with what “we” are doing. Acknowledging such attitudinally-causal links would be to operate both the personal and public minds in a morally closed cycle manner — to actually understand what is happening and why — and such clarified thinking must be dispatched into the non-thought oblivion of the memory hole in order to preserve the artifice by our political class of their guilt-free righteousness in perpetrating and sponsoring the war crimes deemed essential to the success of American foreign policy.

Let me suggest one such open cycle sequence of rhymed histories:

the Wounded Knee massacre, South Dakota 1890;

the Moro Crater massacre, southwestern Philippines 1906;

the No Gun Ri massacre, Korea 1950;

any number of massacres and bombardments in Southeast Asia during the Vietnam War between 1965 and 1975;

the El Mozote massacre, El Salvador 1981, by a US trained and Reagan Administration sponsored Salvadoran Army;

the 2003-2011 Iraq War and its catastrophic aftermath;

May 2021: Palestinians apparently do not have a “right to exist,” but Israelis continue to have the right to destroy them with massive firepower gifted to them by the United States.

Imagine if closed cycle thinking had been applied after any of these catastrophes, and that had prevented subsequent ones because of the socially transformative moral effect of such thinking on the people and government of the United States. Give peace a chance. Is that funny? Why should the moral elevation of our American civilization be seen as an unrealistic and ridiculous fantasy? That is just a cowardly excuse to cling to barbarism and immaturity.

Our planet’s habitability is too rapidly and visibly decaying today, for us humans (and that includes you, unexceptional Americans!) to continue carrying on with the sociopathological behaviors exhibited by ancestors like Achilles, Genghis Khan, the Spanish Conquistadores, and the dictators of the 1930s. It is time we applied closed cycle moral thinking for the guidance of our political selves.

Thermodynamic Socialism

On 21 May 2021, The Santa Fe New Mexican newspaper reported that:

“Oil and gas operators’ required bond insurance in New Mexico would cover only a fraction of the potential cost of cleaning up wells and pipelines they might leave behind, which could stick the state’s taxpayers with a colossal bill [$8.3B], according to an independent study released Thursday.”
(https://www.santafenewmexican.com/news/local_news/oil-and-gas-cleanup-could-cost-new-mexico-8-3-billion-study-says/article_6b8a9918-b97f-11eb-b0b1-6786d9af4fb1.html)

In pointing out this news story, Jeffrey St. Clair commented (23 May 2021, FB): “Same old story, all across the West. The mining, oil and timber corporations rip it up, abscond with the cash, leave behind poisonous rubble and the bill for cleaning it up…if it can be cleaned up.”

This “profitable” business behavior by resource extraction corporations is consistent with the type of energy cycle being promoted: the open cycle.

In thermodynamics, the open cycle is defined as the operation of any isolated “engine” — for extracting “work” from the consumption of “fuel” — by drawing the energy-containing resource (fuel) from an assumed infinite external and unchanging source (i.e., Nature), consuming it within the engine at high temperature to extract work (such as torque, or thrust), and exhausting the waste products of the conversion process into an assumed infinite external and unchanging sink at lower temperature (i.e., Nature). It is left to unspecified external reality — Nature — to endlessly absorb all wastes from our engines, and produce all fuels for our engines, without alteration to itself while existing at a constant temperature.

This has been a very useful concept for designing thermodynamically isolated fossil-fueled engines, like for jet airplanes, but it fails when “the engine” becomes so gargantuan — like being the aggregate fossil-fueled powering of our entire industrialized civilization — that it becomes comparable in “size” to the source and sink it is supposed to operate between. In terrestrial reality there are no isolated engines. You can’t wash an elephant in a kiddie pool, pretending it is in a river.

The aerobic-respiration-photosynthesis cycle sustaining wild animal and plant life on Planet Earth operates as a closed cycle. The aerobic exhalation of carbon dioxide by animal life is inhaled by plant photosynthesis to in turn exhale oxygen, in a balanced closed loop energized by the “fuel” of sunlight, and which cycle generates food for all: sugars, cellulose and protein.

The need to transform our civilization and reduce the amount of energy we use to conduct it, is entirely the task of abandoning further reliance on open cycle thermodynamics — the fiction that all our billions of little engines are each thermodynamically isolated — and operate our civilization’s aggregate planetary engine in a closed cycle. Of necessity this would mean abandoning the fiction that all our millions of little polities are sociologically isolated and can function in an apartheid and exclusionary manner.

Mens sana in corpore sano.

To power our planetary civilization with planetary closed cycle thermodynamics — in the interests of maintaining the longevity of human and much other life on Earth — we have to conduct our various socio-economic lives in a politically closed cycle manner across this planet. Think of this as thermodynamic socialism.

We humans are physically and intellectually capable of rearranging our civilization to operate at this elegantly integrated more advanced level, and we are now morally tasked to do so. We must leave our barbarism in the past and become a nation of morally closed cycle thinking in a world of thermodynamic socialism.

Is that impossible? The toppling of moral impossibilities in past human society always began as gleams of morally closed cycle thinking in just a few minds.

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From Fractiousness to Sustainability, Is It Possible?

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From Fractiousness to Sustainability, Is It Possible?

I think the essential story of the United States of America is a weave of 5 historical currents:

— the struggle of Native Americans against their genocide;

— the struggle of African-Americans against their enslavement, and to find their own unrestrained identity;

— the struggle of immigrants to establish decent lives for themselves and their families;

— the struggle of labor against its exploitation by capital;

— the struggle of the Natural World to withstand the assaults by capitalism.

The struggle of women almost everywhere in the world including the United States to overcome the many forms of abuse, depreciation, exploitation and inequality that they can be subjected to could also be added as a sixth historical current of the American story.

All these struggles continue to this day.

I do not think the triumphalist story of capitalism’s ascendancy and of the personal successes of notables gaining wealth and attention, as well as the glorification of American wars and imperialism, is a historical current with any depth of meaning for the definition of “America,” even though it is the predominant ideological myth promoted by the official scribes and propagandists of the American ruling class.

It took me many years to crystalize this realization, which has long been known and expressed by many alert people. So, then I was asked by a friend:

Q: “What happens to societies when people only care about themselves?…”

A: They become very cruel and disunited, and nationalistically weak.

Thucydides describes this as a danger to the Athenian society of his time, during the Peloponnesian War (431-404 BC):

“Some legislators only wish to vengeance against a particular enemy. Others only look out for themselves. They devote very little time on the consideration of any public issue. They think that no harm will come from their neglect. They act as if it is always the business of somebody else to look after this or that. When this selfish notion is entertained by all, the commonwealth slowly begins to decay. ”

It was the leading cause of the Fall of the Western Roman Empire in the middle of the 5th Century, which devolved into feudalism. It is a feature of the moral corruption weakening societies that are subsequently conquered, as was France by Prussia in 1871 (read Guy de Maupassant’s short story “Boule de Suif,” for an evisceration of that class society) and then again by Germany in 1940 (read W. Somerset Maugham’s book “Strictly Personal,” about his travails in France during 1939-1940, and how the French capitalists would have to back postwar socialist policies for the working class, who would do all fighting and dying to liberate France).

Q: “… and unless compelled to act otherwise by some authoritarian or autocratic government.”

A: Revolutions, like the French (1789 and 1871), Russian (1917), Spanish Anarchist (1936), Chinese (1922-1949), Vietnamese (1945), and Cuban (1959), erupt in reaction to endemic societal corruption, cruelty and top-down injustice, and foreign invasion, and they all-too-soon harden from populist-socialism to authoritarian command societies.

While the socialism of the Cuban Revolution is incredibly admirable, and the type of thing needed everywhere (especially in the U.S.A.), it is nevertheless unfortunate that a part of that Cuban socialist solidarity had to be compelled in order to assure the survival of the revolution and the independence of the country from the Colossus of the North. [1], [2]

The French Revolution ended with Napoleon (in 1800); the Russian Revolution ended with Stalin (by 1934); the Spanish Anarchist Revolution ended with the Stalinists gaining primary influence over the Republican Government (in May 1937); the Chinese Revolution ended with Mao Zedong; and the Cuban Revolution was spearheaded by Fidel Castro and still struggles to free itself from authoritarian measures imposed because of two political forces:

— the unrelenting military, economic, diplomatic and propaganda war waged against Cuba by the U.S. (since 1902!!),

— and by the all-too-human motivation of the Cuban political leadership to stay in control of the Cuban government.

Some kind of force (“Security,” “the Army,” “the Police,” “Intelligence”) is always necessary to defend socialist societies and restrain those who would seek to dominate them, and yet the existence of such forces are themselves breeding grounds for such would-be supervisory dominators.

Q: “I think my question is unanswerable, but I periodically voice it when I feel despair over people’s inability to learn from the past, to go beyond their tribalism, and to fail seeing their intrinsic connections to the rest of humanity. I rail against all that after once again being subjected to other people’s benighted opinions that are examples of those failures.”

A: I see that many people seek to address your basic question with:

— elaborate political ideologies and theorizing (my Marxist friends);

— appeals to religious do-gooderism (traditional soft-Christian fluff, largely delusional);

— commitments to charitable social work in hopes that that ethic spreads by their example (real do-gooderism with hopes for the future, perhaps in vain; as done by exceedingly admirable people like Dorothy Day);

— progressive political activism, (mucking in the tedious turgid nitty-gritty of party politics, like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Bernie Sanders, extremely admirable people trying to be pragmatic in advancing progressive policies — or as some would say “lesser evils” — that seem to have some finite chance of reaching fruition; such efforts are derided by Marxist and Anarchist theorists, who consider them ideologically ‘imperfect’ and incrementalist: pipe dreams);

— all out revolutionary action in hopes of sparking a general uprising (being a violent outlaw like Fidel Castro at the Moncada Barracks in 1953 and in the Sierra Maestra in 1956-1958; a delusional and destructive alternative most of the time, but on rare occasions it works);

— giving up and sinking into hedonistic dissipation or self-terminating depression (a very sad and yet too popular option, which in the extreme can lead some to emulate the Marquis de Sade or become suicide bombers).

The options and resources available for solving a difficult problem depend very intimately and strongly on the attitude you bring to the situation confronting you, and the attitude you are prepared to live with in order to obtain a solution. This is very clearly seen when contemplating the problem of the sustainability crisis characterized by global warming climate change and biodiversity loss, faced by our fractious capitalist world.

My own rather Fabian-Utopian approach (in answer to the question) is to urge action in response to global warming climate change, because I know that to really solve that problem (the sustainability crisis) will require:

— social unity (the problem is planetary, there are no local nor piecemeal solutions);

— a leveling of standards-of-living (worldwide!);

— massive demilitarization (resources reallocated for broad social benefit);

— a heavy reliance on intelligent planning and Earth-focused scientific research and engineering (technology for human and social benefit, including those for nutrition, drugs and medical care worldwide);

— and de-growth de-capitalization (economics as if people mattered — a.k.a. socialism — and resource reallocation and employment for broad social benefit).

The compulsion for advancing such global initiatives would come from Nature itself in the form of the rapid erosion of the sustainability and climatic conditions of the many environments provided by Planet Earth to its human tenants. In this analogy, Nature becomes the autocrat dictating our conformity into World Socialism. I suppose this is a grimly utopian view.

Nature’s sustainability-crisis push on our bitterly fractious self-focused human world society seems quite capable of producing the same kind of effect on us as the German invasions of Rome during the 4th and 5th Centuries had on the bitterly fractious self-focused society of the Western Roman Empire: the collapse of a rotten structure into impoverished chaos out of which violent strongmen would carve out fiefdoms in a new Dark Age, and perhaps this time the last one.

On the other hand, maybe Nature’s sustainability-crisis push will spark a world revolution in human thinking and humanistic identification, and from that a totally new world socialist paradigm will come to define organized human life on Planet Earth. It is all a matter of choice. Only time will tell.

Thanks to Ann Harmless for prodding my thinking with her questions.

[1] Cuba and the Cameraman
https://youtu.be/lsZ8hDutkeM

[2] Cuba Libre
https://youtu.be/LmKgDxQHnfA

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Is Trump Worse Than Nixon?

My friend, Eric Andrew Gebert asked:

“I’ve only read and studied about the Nixon era, and the Watergate scandal (1972 to 1974) that led to Nixon’s resignation. To those that lived through it: is our current state of political scandal worse? The G.W. Bush era was definitely worse than Nixon. Even John Dean called it: WORSE THAN WATERGATE. That was followed up by Obama continuing the War On Terror; putting drone warfare into hyperdrive and going after whistleblowers. And placating capitalist-banksters who should have been prosecuted and put on trial. I feel like we are setting so many bad precedents that our Republic may never recover. This country needs a full-on Democratic reckoning and that doesn’t mean if we just elect Democrats that our Republic will begin healing. Needs to be more than that. It starts with civics and the rule of law.”

Eric, Here is how I remember it.

I lived through the Nixon Administration:

– being 18 in 1968 (and actively sought by the Draft Board for being mulched in the Vietnam War);

– when the Tet Offensive erupted (and the U.S. actually lost the Vietnam War);

– when Martin Luther King, Jr., was assassinated (on 4 April);

– when Bobby Kennedy (who started out working with Roy Cohn for Joe McCarthy, and then for his older brother President John Kennedy, running the covert ‘assassinate Fidel’ CIA program) was assassinated on 5-6 June;

– when horrendous urban riots, outbursts fueled by multi-generational despair, broke out in many cities after King’s assassination;

– when the corrupt Mayor Daley administration in Chicago sent the cops out on the bloody attack on young, peaceful and unarmed demonstrators during the Democratic National Convention (which veered to the Johnson Administration’s man, Vice President Hubert Humphrey, and away from the antiwar egghead Eugene McCarthy, Bobby Kennedy having been removed a month earlier);

– and when Dick Nixon invented and used the “southern strategy,” which is the standard Republican strategy of today (consolidate the bigot vote), to win the 1968 election as the “law and order” (White Supremacy) candidate.

Nixon, with Henry Kissinger (National Security Advisor, and later Secretary of State), had sabotaged Johnson’s peace initiative with the Communist Party of Vietnam (the “North Vietnamese”) in 1968, with about 30,000 American soldiers already dead from the Vietnam War at that point; by having Madam Chennault (a Chinese woman associated with the Chiang Kai-shek Nationalist Chinese regime-dictatorship in Formosa) make secret contact with the North Vietnamese government leaders and tell them not to accept Johnson’s peace terms, so Nixon could get elected (because Johnson would be seen as a failure), and Nixon would give them better terms.

Five years later, and with over 20,000 more Americans dead (and millions of Asian dead), the North Vietnamese accepted the exact same peace terms from Nixon that Johnson had offered them. The U.S. military pulled out in 1973, prisoners were repatriated, and Nixon poured money into the corrupt South Vietnamese regime for arms, but so much was funneled into pure graft, and that regime collapsed in 1975 from the combination of rampant corruption, lack of popular support, and cowardice in the field (and the Communist forces were very good militarily).

From 1969, Nixon and Kissinger secretly expanded the war into neutral Cambodia. The U.S. bombing of Laos and Cambodia (along their eastern border areas adjacent to Vietnam: the famous Ho Chi Minh Trail) had been so massive and genocidal to Laotian and Cambodian peasant societies that the genocidal Khmer Rouge regime resulted in Cambodia: an insane nihilistic death cult. The “Secret War in Cambodia” was exposed in 1970, and that ignited ferocious protests in the U.S., one of which led to the killing of unarmed students by National Guard troops at Ohio’s Kent State University.

Nixon won a landslide reelection in 1972, over anti-war Democrat (and decent guy) George McGovern (a WWII B-17 pilot and combat veteran). Part of Tricky Dick’s M.O. was covert “dirty tricks,” like the Watergate Break-in to the offices of the Democratic National Committee, in June 1972, to spy on the Democrats’ plans. I graduated college that year. A similar dirty trick had been the break-in to the office of Daniel Ellsberg’s psychiatrist to look for blackmail material against one of the men who leaked the Pentagon Papers in 1971 (Anthony Russo was the other leaker, and it was he who recruited Ellsberg to the effort).

The Watergate caper unravelled in 1973, and led to televised Congressional impeachment hearings in 1974. I was then in graduate school, and we grad students would pass much time every day watching the hearings (on TVs in graduate housing common rooms), and the months-long cascade of damning revelations. Now, and this is a key point: there were vigorous Republican investigators in both the Senate committee (like Senator Howard Baker) and House Committee, and they focussed on crimes against the Constitution of the United States, which in the case of Nixon were direct violations of laws passed by Congress, of which the invasion of Cambodia was the most egregious example (a military invasion of a neutral country, without a congressional declaration of war).

While there were certainly many Republicans anxious to avoid electoral losses because of the deterioration of the Nixon Administration, and who soft-pedaled Nixon’s crimes, there were enough of them faithful to the idea of “defending the Constitution” to make it inevitable Nixon would be impeached if it came to a vote — as Barry Goldwater personally told Nixon it would. That is why Nixon resigned (his VP, Spiro Agnew, had resigned earlier because he was caught in a corruption scandal; Gerald Ford was the new VP, and ascended to the presidency when Nixon resigned, and soon enough after pardoned Nixon, which is why Ford was soundly defeated in the election of 1976 by Jimmy Carter).

The first half of the Carter Administration, 1977-1979 (or 1976-1978), was the peak of American political decency combined with freedom from foreign wars (what is conventionally called “peace”), at least since the late Eisenhower Administration (after the Korean War and McCarthyism). After that, Zbigniew Brzezinski, Carter’s NSA Director, took the Carter Administration back into Cold War nastiness, by setting the Afghan trap that sucked in the Soviet Army, and was the major disaster that led to the downfall of the U.S.S.R, from 1989-1991.

The year 1979 is when the UK inflicted the world with Margaret Thatcher, and Ronald Reagan’s campaign to ‘make America great again’ took off, and he won the presidency in the 1980 election. Carter was undone by the external circumstances of austerities imposed on Americans by the energy crisis (Arab Oil Embargo) and stagflation, and by the embarrassment to national pride of failing to negotiate the extraction of American hostages from Islamic Revolutionary Iran (and also having a military rescue raid fail), since Reagan had made a Nixon-type deal for post-election hostage release with the Iranian theocracy (what a guy). Reagan’s win in November, and then the murder of John Lennon in December, marked the coup de grace of postwar (WWII) American liberalism.

The “conservatives” had been gathering strength through think-tanks (for policy formulation and capital accumulation) since at least 1971 (after the “Nixon Shock” of dropping the gold standard, the Bretton Woods Agreement on currencies); to conservatives during 1968 to 1971, it had looked like a left-wing “revolution” might succeed in the U.S.

Trump is just the latest manifestation of that Reaganite neoliberalism that erupted and gained ascendancy during 1979-1981. Along the way we’ve had a string of neoliberal presidential tools: G.W.H. Bush, W. Clinton, G.W. Bush, B. Obama, and finally the Maddest Hatter of them all: Donald J. Trump.

So, is Trump worse than Nixon? Is 2020-2021 worse and more dangerous than 1968?

What was worse in 1968 was the magnitude of the foreign slaughter inflicted by the U.S. military, and that operation’s huge suction of young American men into psychological and physical destruction (about 58,000 of them got their names chiseled on a Black Wall as a consolation prize), and the massive loss of public trust in government, which was exposed as being manned by too many callous lying careerists. This rupture of public trust has never been repaired and is a direct cause of the ongoing degradation of American public life. The American people as a whole have paid a terrible price for the self-induced bloody catastrophe of the Vietnam War (not to negate the genocidal magnitude of its cost to the Vietnamese, Laotians and Cambodians), and compounded that tragedy by never having internalized the lessons of that war, by a transformation of American society in the same way that Germany (as an example) has transformatively and truthfully faced its Nazi past. Americans chose denial, and let themselves open to repeating similar catastrophes; though for a time there was a strong resistance to mounting subsequent foreign military adventures until Reagan and subsequent neoliberal presidents (all of them) rehabilitated militarized American imperialism with the now (from 1973 on) “volunteer” (or, economic draft) military.

What was better in 1968 (to about 1971 really, and at most to about 1977) were the economic conditions for working people. Up to the recession of 1971, jobs could be gotten, a man could work as a janitor in a school or office building and support a stay-at-home wife with children in a house with a front lawn! Recession and inflation came in 1971 and after, because of government waste-spending on years of war on top of trying to maintain Lyndon Johnson’s “War on Poverty” and the implementation of the Civil Rights Laws (of 1964-1968): “affirmative action,” and the social concerns of the Office of Equal Opportunity (EEOC).

So the economic situation deteriorated significantly and quickly for many people, and the neoliberal movement (non-liberal Republicans, social and economic conservatives, and hardened corporatists) pushed on those economic conditions with initiatives of austerity: dump the little wage-slave guy to preserve the gain expectations of the bigger capitalists, and demonize the welfare-needing poor to redirect the anger of the increasingly impoverished wage-slavers onto the welfare-needing, and away from the exploiting corporatists and stock speculators. This remains Republican Party orthodoxy. And, as already mentioned, back then there were still liberal Republicans (people like Jacob Javits) and “defend the Constitution” Republicans capable of turning on Nixon. But all that liberalism was decaying along with the economic conditions — lots of good jobs — that were necessary to support it.

What is worse today is the complete putrification of the Republican Party into a completely anti-democratic organized conspiracy for gaining political power for purely factional aims of plunder to the benefit of high-end classists (the rich) and an overtly White Supremacist tribalism. Certainly such people existed back in 1968 and worked for the same ends as such people pursue today, but the broader extent of the relative prosperity offered by the economic system back then meant that there was less atrocious squeezing of the poor by the rich in order for those rich to lard themselves to their satisfaction at the national expense.

The whole idea today of giving workers, in or out of work, $2000 survival checks from the government during the pandemic, and extended unemployment insurance, is a specific indicator of the vastly impoverished national economy and economic management of today as compared with 50 years ago. The resistance to providing that economic relief today is because of a fear by the economic gatekeepers employed by the 1%, of reigniting memories of broader systems of economic equity and prosperity that obviated the need for such piecemeal and episodic economic survival crumbs-to-the-masses, like one-time $2000 checks. This realization is what Bernie Sanders tapped into, a return to FDR’s 1944 proposals of essentially expanding Social Security, with job and healthcare security for all. So far, such “socialism” is rationed to the U.S. military (and not all that generously for the rank-and-file), the political elite, and the corporate insiders.

Another clear degradation since 1968 is in the intellectual quality of much of American society and certainly of the American political classes; all coincident with the withering of educational quality over the decades, but ameliorated by a broadening of educational access to underserved communities (but again, not nearly enough of that, and over time increasing closed off by increasing costs-to-participate). So “leaders” like Trump and George W. Bush are clearly stupider than earlier generation leaders like Kennedy and even Lyndon Johnson. Leaders back then were hardly moral, so one can’t say that today’s political actors are vastly more immoral, though Trump does seem hellbent on pushing the envelope negatively in that regard. However, it is important to remember that Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger were/is truly evil because they were/are so intelligent and thus extremely capable of really well-thought out malevolence. Trump is closer to being a very maladjusted 3-year-old of 74 years of age and with no functional intellectual machinery, nor impulse control nor conscious moral ethics: he is just a destructive incompetent.

So from my perspective, the improved technocratic systems and technological machinery of government and the American industrialized civilization of today would be better able to address the physical and political challenges of today — primarily global warming climate change and the gross inequalities of standard-of-living (wealth, income, education, economic opportunity, job and health security) — IF we had both better government people to manage public affairs AND such politicians and technocrats (which includes the corporate sector) along with the majority of the American public had the desire and intention to implement a wholistic approach to managing the country for the benefit of all, rather than classistly (just for the 1%), tribally (just for White Supremacy) and factionally (competitively between narrowly defined special interests).

I see the failures of the management of American public life today as being primarily due to the poor moral, ethical and intellectual quality of the people doing that management, and the utter pettiness of their motivations and visions, rather than because of an overwhelming intractability of external circumstances, or technical deficiencies in the machinery of political management. Fifty years ago there was probably a greater fraction of better people in those roles (even though still with many, many horrible ones in place) but the magnitude of the military and financial disasters they had gotten themselves into (the Vietnam War, 1970s stagflation) were so great that they undid their more valiant efforts (like the War On Poverty, and Affirmative Action).

The neoliberal program, from 1979 onward, gained more control over of the catastrophe-prone external circumstances — like war, economics and welfare — by using improvements in technological knowledge and economic systems management to relentlessly impoverish an increasing proportion of the American public, from the bottom up economically, in order to preserve and grow the wealth of the wealthy. In a sense, the societal chaos that erupted in 1968 was natural and spontaneous, but today American society is so tightly controlled by being so thoroughly micro-managed to its impoverishment, that societal chaos is now an entirely managed effect, like the flow of a river throttled by the programmed releases of impounded water by hydroelectric dam engineers. The Trumpist Putsch of January 6, 2021, was just such an incompetently (thankfully) managed ejaculation.

So, which was/is worse: Nixon’s 1968 or Trump’s 2021?; or perhaps G.W. Bush’s exploitation of 2001’s 9-11, and his Iraq (and Afghanistan) War?

From the perspective of foreigners, Nixon was worse than Bush who was worse than Trump: 3 to 4 million dead in Indochina (plus all the bombing, land-mining and chemical defoliation); versus many hundreds of thousands dead in Iraq and with millions made refugees; versus thousands droned to death under Trump. But Trump gains many extra negative points for his tireless efforts to destroy the climate and ecosystems of Planet Earth, which ecocide directly cause fatalities.

From the purely selfish perspective of the American people, things have gotten steadily worse since Nixon because of the unrelenting vampirism by the 1% on the American economy, with its attendant impoverishment of wage-slaves (who too often contribute to their own enslavement by their myopic bigotry, anti-intellectualism and anti-environmentalism).

So in the grossest possible characterization:

– back in 1968-1971 the external circumstances of war and economics were worse and better, respectively, than today while the quality of the political class was better intellectually and professionally; in general society was freer because the economy was more expansive and supportive of popular aspirations despite still having many specific inequities (e.g., racist and sexist practices); also Earth’s climate and ecosystems were far healthier than today;

– today the external circumstances of war and economics are better and worse, respectively, than 50 years ago because the political class, despite being so much worse intellectually and professionally and so much more a captive appendage of corporate marketing departments, has a much tighter grip on external circumstances through a greater understanding of the levers of economic control; and society is more controlled and restrictive for “the working class” because their economic confinement and impoverishment is the mechanism by which the political class manages national affairs to further the enrichment of capitalist wealth, their patrons; and that intentionally worsened and worsening economic situation for “the working class” (the 99%) in order to exponentially enrich the wealthy is paid for by the now little-reversible ecocide and global warming destruction of the climate system.

In any case, we can’t go back. The best we could do — if we dropped the totality of capitalist neoliberalism (“fascism”) and its foundation of White Supremacy, and developed the moral character required for fashioning a wholistic “all in” national society — is to learn from the history of our national mistakes, and then apply those painfully gained insights to implement a societal transformation that adequately and equitably meets the existential challenges of today: the sustainability crisis with its global warming climate change, and nuclear disarmament.

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Salvation

Painting of the Roiling Ocean, by Ivan Konstantinovich Aivazovsky

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It is sad indeed to see an oppressed people destroying itself through factionalism and civil war, while a far more powerful enemy squeezes them out of their land and lives. I have read of such in Thucydides, but it is too painful to watch in my own time. And, such a sad spectacle turns foreign eyes away, withdrawing their compassion and respect, and leaving “the lost” to their fate of ultimate disappearance. You and I, Nadia Issam Harhash, know that a universal solidarity among humans is the only salvation for all of us, but you and I also know the unfortunate truth that too many of those humans will resist contributing to that salvation to the bitter end: a death cult. What is left to people like you and I is to speak out against the death cult (and hope we are not silenced), and then also retreat into care of our families and immersion in being creative artists, so as to keep our sanity while we live. As an engineer, I always look for solutions to problems, but here as in so many other times and places the “solution” is purely one of choice: unrestrained compassion, respect and solidarity for and with the other members of the homo sapiens species. To me, all politics and all religions are madness, and should disappear. Heraclitus (~500BC) said “Bigotry is the disease of the religious,” and politics is so obviously the mechanisms of organized greed. Salvation will NOT come down from some Sky God in Heaven, nor from Hell out of the barrels of guns; salvation can only come from human hearts and souls who have come to realize that they each are merely momentary wave crests in a sea of humanity flowing within an ocean of Life. Peace.

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The Five Allegiances

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The Five Allegiances

“We be of one blood, ye and I” — Mowgli, in The Jungle Book, by Rudyard Kipling

The hierarchy of the five allegiances is: nepotism, tribalism, classism, nationalism, humanism.

Family connection is the emblem of conformity with nepotism.

Group identity is the emblem of conformity with tribalism. That emblem can be: race, religion, language, ethnicity, cult bondage.

Money wealth is the emblem of conformity with classism.

National identity is the emblem of conformity with nationalism.

Species-wide identification as homo sapiens is the emblem of conformity with humanism.

Each allegiance is a strategy to gain competitive advantage over other human beings. That competitiveness decreases from extremely intense with nepotism, to absent with pure humanism.

For each allegiance, those above it are barriers to its complete success. Humanism, being the least competitive relationship between humans, is also the most stymied by the combination of: nationalism, classism, tribalism and nepotism. We see this reflected in the inhumanity of homo sapiens world society, for which deprivation there is no compelling physical nor sociological reason.

Nationalism is stymied by the combination of classist greed, tribalist bigotry and family-linked corruption; and it is slightly diluted by expansive humanist cosmic consciousness. The managers of national governments, who are too often motivated by the three higher ranked allegiances, may at times try to unite a multicultural national population with the imagery of democracy, equality, inclusion and diversity. This is particularly so when armies have to be raised for wars of national defense and foreign conquest.

Nationalism is most successful when applied through a lush and expansive economy providing a high standard of living for all. In providing secure and fulfilling jobs with good pay, and which ease the existential anxieties of individuals and gives them roles they can adopt as emblems of self worth, economic nationalism in essence pays people off to relinquish their reliance on classism, tribalism and nepotism. As the equitable economics of any nation withers, so does its mass appeal to national allegiance, and deepens its fragmentation by classist greed, tribalist bigotry and nepotistic corruption.

Homo sapiens world society is devolving through a planetary sustainability crisis, of which global warming climate change is one compelling symptom. That crisis is driven by classism — economic greed — which is exacerbated by the other allegiances except humanism. The solution for overcoming that crisis is well-known: humanism applied with reverence for Nature and All Life, and in perpetuity.

Merely stating that solution illuminates all the barriers to its implementation. Besides being structural and non-personal in the sense of nationalistic competitions and economic exclusivities, such barriers are also weaves of egotistical personal attitudes and failures of moral character dominated by selfishness and bigotry.

It is clear, from looking at the aggregate of homo sapiens world society today, that the prospects for reversing that devolutionary planetary crisis are very dim indeed. For too many people, the idea of eliminating all the old socio-economic structures along with all their personal prejudices, and replacing them with a planetary humanism of species-wide solidarity to fashion a sustainable human-with-Nature world and truly radiant civilization, is just too fearful to even imagine let alone seriously consider. Certain death inequitably distributed by relentless impoverishment is by far preferred, even though most people suffer from it. The tragedy of human existence is that most people prefer to live out their lives and die without changing their ideas even when those ideas are harmful to them.

Frustrated humanists can easily imagine a worldwide French Revolution breaking out in defiance of that tragedy, with the decapitation of the nepotistic, tribalist and classist national managements, and with the eruption of a liberating world socialist nirvana. This is like the aspirational dream of Christianity held by the millions of slaves in the Roman Empire.

But in the sad reality of our present world, could any violent outburst by the impoverished and oppressed be motivated by a globalist liberating humanism, instead of merely reactionary survivalism for family, tribe and class? What few revolutions of this type not quashed in their embryonic stages by the economic and national managers, would soon recycle the same poisonous exclusivities of former times but with a new cast of leading characters.

To transcend this pernicious eddy and actually evolve humanity out of its present decaying stagnation would require a universal enlightenment of human attitudes and consciousness. And that is an unrealistically utopian thought indeed. But incredibly, it is neither a logical nor physical impossibility, just an extreme improbability.

Is it possible for us as individuals to increase that probability? Based on a realistic view of the long arc of human history the clear answer is “no,” despite the numerous temporary blooms of localized enlightened society that have occurred during the lifetime of our homo sapiens species. But it is depressing and dispiriting to live with that “no” dominating one’s thinking. The mere fact of having been born entitles you and every other human being with the right to enjoy a fulfilling life with a liberated consciousness, the right to seek achieving your full human potential.

One can seek that fulfillment along the simultaneous parallel paths of supporting a family of whatever kind, caring for others through both personal and societal means, creative immersion in arts, sciences and craftsmanship, and championing global socialist humanism by both intellectual allegiance to it and personal engagement with it in the political and societal arenas you are a part of, at whatever level. Ultimately, the course and fate of humanity is the sum total of the courses and fates of the individual lives comprising it, and the greatest impact we each can have on helping to steer that great stream is made by the quality of the choices we each make regarding the conduct of our own personal lives.

Achieving a morally enlightened personal fulfillment in no way guarantees the morally enlightened success of any subgroup the homo sapiens species — your family, your tribe, your class, your nation — and least of all of humanity as a whole; but it helps! And living with that as personal experience is very satisfying indeed.

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The Artistry of Gifting

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The Artistry of Gifting

In the book The Gift, Lewis Hyde described (among other things) how Bob Dylan benefitted enormously by having copyright-free access to traditional folksongs with which to hone his craft (and gain young artist income for performing them). The production of new art needs the free nourishment of old art in order to continue the cycle of cultural rebirth. http://www.lewishyde.com/publications/the-gift

Bob Dylan just sold his entire catalog of songs (to Universal Music Group) for probably upwards of $300,000,000. Stevie Nicks (of the band Jefferson Airplane, etc.) had previously sold her entire catalog for $100,000,000. Yea Heavy And A Bottle Of Bread, the Summer of Love has withered into the Winter Of Our Discontent: COVID spiking, mass loss of income, mass foreclosures, mass you’re on your own healthcare (mass health don’t care), mass social contamination, exclusive celebrity indemnification.

Tom Lehrer (now 92), the wickedly funny satirist and songwriter, has put his entire music catalog — lyrics and sheet music — in the public domain. He grants everyone permission to do anything they want with his entire artistic/musical output, without cost and in perpetuity. You have till 31 December 2024 to download any or all of Tom’s songs, before he closes his website. https://tomlehrersongs.com/

Who knew in 1959 that “Poisoning Pigeons In The Park” would morph into official U.S. government public health policy (for us homo sapiens pigeons) in 2020? https://youtu.be/yhuMLpdnOjY

Jonas Edward Salk (1918-1995) was a medical researcher who developed the first vaccine against the polio virus. Before the Salk injected vaccine was introduced in 1955, polio was considered one of the most serious public health problems in the world. The 1952 U.S. epidemic, in which 3,145 people died and 21,269 were left with some form of paralysis, was the worst polio outbreak in the nation’s history, and most of its victims were children. According to a 2009 PBS documentary, “Apart from the atomic bomb, America’s greatest fear was polio.” During 1953 and 1954, the average number of polio cases in the U.S. was more than 45,000; by 1962 that number had dropped to 910. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jonas_Salk

“Salk never patented the vaccine or earned any money from his discovery, preferring it be distributed as widely as possible.” https://www.salk.edu/about/history-of-salk/jonas-salk/

Between 1954 and 1961, Albert Sabin (born Abram Saperstein, 1906-1993), a medical researcher, went through a tremendous effort to develop and test an oral vaccine against all three strains of the polio virus. To develop and prove the safety of Sabin’s oral vaccine, upwards of 100 million people — in the USSR, Eastern Europe, Singapore, Mexico and the Netherlands — were tested with it.

The success of that campaign by 1960 opened the door to testing in the United States, on 180,000 school children in Cincinnati. The mass immunization techniques that Sabin pioneered with his associates effectively eradicated polio in Cincinnati, and that technique along with the oral vaccine itself broke the chain of transmission of the virus, and has led over the last four decades to nearly eradicating the disease worldwide.

“Sabin refused to patent his vaccine, waiving every commercial exploitation by pharmaceutical industries, so that the low price would guarantee a more extensive spread of the treatment. From the development of his vaccine Sabin did not gain a penny, and continued to live on his salary as a professor.” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Albert_Sabin

On 12 April 1922, Frederick Grant Banting (1891-1941), Charles Herbert Best (1899-1978), James Bertram Collip (1892-1965), John James Rickard Macleod (1876-1935), and John Gerald “Gerry” FitzGerald (1882-1940) — the key participants in the project (in Canada) to develop therapeutic insulin, a project initiated by Banting in 1920 — wrote jointly to the president of the University of Toronto to propose assigning the patent for the artificial production of insulin to the Board of Governors of the University in such a way that:

“The patent would not be used for any other purpose than to prevent the taking out of a patent by other persons. When the details of the method of preparation are published anyone would be free to prepare the extract, but no one could secure a profitable monopoly.”

The assignment to the University of Toronto Board of Governors was completed on 15 January 1923, for the token payment of $1.00. Following further concern regarding (drug company) Eli Lilly’s attempts to separately patent parts of the manufacturing process, Robert Defries (Assistant Director and Head of the Insulin Division at Connaught Laboratories, which administered the insulin patent) established a patent pooling policy which would require producers to freely share any improvements to the manufacturing process without compromising affordability. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Insulin#Discovery

“Tell me someone who’s not a parasite, and I’ll go out and say a prayer for him.” — Bob Dylan

Some people are successful in life and lucky, but some are successful at life and are radiant.

Seisetsu, a Zen master in ancient Kamakura, required larger quarters to alleviate the overcrowding of his many students. Umezu Seibei, a well-to-do merchant, decided to donate 500 piecers of gold (called ryo) for that purpose. “All right, I’ll take it,” said Seisetsu. But Umezu was dissatisfied with Seisetsu’s response because a person could live a whole year on 3 ryo, and Umezu had expected an effusive thanks. So he reminded Seisetsu that 500 ryo was a lot of money that he had been donated. “Do you want me to thank you?” asked Seisetsu. “You ought to,” replied Umezu. “Why should I?” asked Seisetsu, “the giver should be thankful.” [see #53 in the book Zen Flesh, Zen Bones, by Paul Reps (1895-1990)].

And that’s it, isn’t it?: you donate because you are grateful that you are able to do so. Gratitude is enlightenment, and that is the artistry of gifting.

The Gift is an excellent book, if you are an artist, or at least appreciate art, read it (try your public library). http://www.lewishyde.com/publications/the-gift

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Guy de Maupassant, and America Today

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Guy de Maupassant, and America Today

Having now read 98 of the 290 short stories written by Guy de Maupassant (1850-1893), from 4 English translation anthologies with many repeats between them, I am convinced that he was the best short story writer ever. The quality of his stories range from “good” to “masterpieces,” there are no mediocre nor bad ones.

Any writer aspiring to be a literary artist must read and learn from de Maupassant. He was a master of economy of style, brisk pacing, even-tempered wit, deep insights into human psychology that remain entirely relevant to this day, and of devising imaginative plots with deliciously apt denouements (endings).

He was superb at describing food, dining and cuisine, and also of sensory impressions like smells, with vividness. Also, he was a lyrical artist with his many passages describing natural settings: the sky at various times of the day and during various seasons, river environments, the woods, open hilly grasslands and plains, and weather day or night. The best equivalent I can recall in American literature is Mark Twain’s lyrical passage in “Huckleberry Finn,” on the early morning mists on the Mississippi River.

It is easy to find critics, from de Maupassant’s day to ours, who dislike him. This is because he was so truthful, and so matter-of-fact about it; never an appealing trait for people protecting cherished illusions and prejudices. Indeed, Guy de Maupassant does not show any prejudices, except perhaps for a marked dislike of cruelty, and a marked enjoyment of life, from which springs his enormous compassion for the very very flawed creatures that we human beings are.

Reading Guy de Maupassant as a social critic of the French Second Empire (1852-1870) and Third Republic (1870-1940), it is easy to see why that Third Republic fell in 1940. Jean Renoir’s 1939 film, “The Rules of the Game,” is a gem in this regard. The health of a nation is based on the attitudes of its people, and the attitudinal corruption riddling the Third Republic, despite its wonderful cultural elegance peaking during its Belle Époque (1880-1914), undermined its political strength against the subsequent assaults by fascism.

The attitudinal weakness and sociopathology of Americans today, as say compared with the awesome fortitude of the Russians of Leningrad (St. Petersburg) during the 2 year 4.5 month siege of that city during 1941-1944, or of the Cuban population for over half a century since 1961, is similar to the classism and dissolution of the French bourgeoisie during the Third Republic. But, today’s Americans are practicing their dissolution and societal enervation without the culture, grace or elegance of the 19th and early 20th century French.

That 70 million Americans could vote for Donald Trump in 2020 is the saddest commentary one can imagine on the abysmal state of the American Public Mind. While I have now read many thoughtful and statistically supported analyses, from November 2020, of the erosion of Trump’s political support and the electoral collapse of his regime, I remain convinced that his appeal was always based on one factor: bigotry by white people (and minority individuals who hankered to join the capitalist übermensch club) whose xenophobia is expressed as fear of being economically swamped by demographic dilution.

I acknowledge that Marxist analyses of the November 2020 election, based on their economic focus using their class analysis dissection of American society, are excellent; and that perhaps a few of the pop-psychology and ‘cultural’ commentaries on that election’s aftermath also offer some insights; but I think it all boils down to identity politics (voting for the projected ‘me’ reflected by a candidate), electorally, and gut “race-consciousness” emotionalism, which is stronger the less educated the individual. That very highly educated very rich people would also vote consistently for Trump and the Republican Party is entirely a function of their parasitism, but even with them gut-level racism is a factor in their sociopathological outlook on human society.

What is wonderful in Guy de Maupassant’s stories is that they are filled with a wide variety of characters, and many of these reflect the attitudes I just described with respect to American voters in 2020. So, one gets sharply drawn personified images of the many shades of those attitudes. Another aspect of his sharp insights into human nature is that we are not strictly governed by our rational minds (which rationalist-materialist stricture I see as the biggest gap in the Marxist analysis of human society), because humans in fact are much compelled by genetically programmed behaviors and tendencies erupting out of our ancestral evolutionarily honed instincts: our monkey genes. It is so easy to see Trump’s rabidly naïve functionally psychotic evangelically bigoted zombie horde as a purely reactive monkey troop defending its imaginary territory from “them!”

As regards American society in November 2020, the best that I can see is the growth of refreshing and enlightened attitudes in so much of the young population (under 45 years old), which was crucial to the electoral defeat of Donald Trump; and the best I can hope for is that a revival of real education occurs so that an increasing fraction of our younger citizens can learn how to better enjoy life by developing their minds beyond the limbic tendencies embedded in our monkey genes. It is such people who will propel any economic and political improvements that may occur in American society in the coming years, and which are absolutely essential for making credible organized responses to the challenges posed by the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic, the destruction of world environments and the loss of biodiversity, and the overarching threat from global warming climate change.

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Death-Grip by Fungal Ideas

Ants biting the underside of leaves as a result of infection by O. unilateralis. The top panel shows the whole leaf with the dense surrounding vegetation in the background and the lower panel shows a close up view of dead ant attached to a leaf vein. The stroma of the fungus emerges from the back of the ant’s head and the perithecia, from which spores are produced, grows from one side of this stroma, hence the species epithet. The photograph has been rotated 180 degrees to aid visualization.

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Death-Grip by Fungal Ideas

On 4 November 2020, Jeffrey St. Clair wrote:

“I keep hoping that one day there’ll be a presidential candidate who just says very plainly: I don’t want to invade anyone else’s country or drone their wedding parties; I don’t want to torture anyone; I don’t want your family to go bankrupt from the bills for your daughter’s chemo; I want you to be paid fairly for the work you do and not be preyed upon by bill collectors when you’re unemployed; I want you to have a roof over your head and clean water to drink; I don’t want your kids to go hungry at school or be thrown in jail for smoking grass or be shot by the police while walking home from the 7/11; I want you to have time off to enjoy your life and not worry about your house burning down in a wildfire or being swept away in a hurricane. Is that too much to ask? Where is this person?”
— Jeffrey St. Clair (4 November 2020)

“People in hell want ice water, too.”
— Wendell “Moe” Beecher (1974, Gas Dynamics Lab, Princeton University)

Ophiocordyceps unilateralis fungus

A Scientific American article from 2009 describes the following [1]:

The Ophiocordyceps unilateralis fungus infects Camponotus leonardi ants that live in tropical rainforest trees. Once infected, the spore-possessed ant will climb down from its normal habitat and bite down on a leaf, with what the authors call a “death grip,” and then die.

After the ant death, the fungus begins growing hyphae inside the insect’s body; in a few days, the hyphae would emerge from the exoskeleton—”always … from a specific point at the back of the head,” write the authors of the study, which was led by Sandra Andersen of the Center for Social Evolution at the University of Copenhagen in Denmark. Within a week, the fungus had grown to about twice the length of the host ant’s body and had started sexual reproduction. Meanwhile, “the ant cuticle is … remodeled into a protective case by reinforcing the weaker parts,” and the parts of the fungus inside the ant’s body appear to differentiate into separate functions, write the researchers.

When the fungus releases spores, it creates what the authors describe as “an infectious ‘killing field'” about one square meter below the ant body that could infect C. leonardi ants or similar species that are unlucky enough to walk there.

Much more about the Ophiocordyceps unilateralis fungus is given in [2].

Alcon Blue Butterfly

Caterpillars of the Alcon Blue Butterfly have developed an outer coat that tricks ants into believing the young are their own because it smells like ant grubs, duping the ants into carrying the larvae back to their colonies to feed and care for, even at the expense of their own grubs since the Alcon Blue caterpillars smell like queen ant grubs, so the worker ants feed them preferentially. The Alcon Blue caterpillars grow fat in their ant nests, pupate, and then fly away to reproduce and continue their species’s parasitic life cycle.

Alcon Blue Butterflies are found in Europe and across the Palearctic to Siberia and Mongolia. They occur on damp meadows where Gentiana (Marsh Gentian, a purple 5-petal flower) grows; they are plentiful in such places, sometimes even in abundance, from the end of May into July, but in the North not before the end of June. [3]

SARS-CoV-2

The SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus that was first identified in Wuhan, China, in December 2019, has blindly evolved an ingenious strategy for perpetuating itself — perhaps indefinitely — through its host population: riding on human stupidity, impatience and selfishness.

Were people everywhere to follow the anti-pandemic protocols of:

– maintaining a greater than 2 meter distance from other individuals in public;

– self-quarantining for 2 weeks to ensure they are not infected before entering a new household or social environment since much viral spread is by asymptomatic carriers;

– wearing masks over their mouths and noses to prevent their breath-plumes, sneezes and coughs from spewing possibly infected droplets into the meters of airspace around them;

– thoroughly washing their hands often with soap and water (preferably hot), especially after contact with strange objects or people;

– avoiding gatherings, especially large ones, and especially for lengthy periods;

then the SARS-CoV-2 virus particles would have much greater difficulty finding and infecting hosts, and that virus species would eventually die out because of the decay and rupture of its particles’s outer lipid (fat) casings exposed to atmospheric oxygen and environmental heat.

Following this protocol requires discipline, patience and intelligence, because it is annoying. Our lack of discipline (to so regulate our personal behaviors), patience (to stick with the protocol for the duration of the pathogen species’s lifespan), and intelligence (to recognize the reality we must grapple with rationally, which has been exposed by scientific research), in aggregate is SARS-CoV-2’s winning strategy. It eats us out through our undisciplined emotionalism and our preferential fantasy ideas.

Capitalism

Capitalism — as championed by the United States and the high-carbon-footprint part of the International Community that surrenders all its mental capacity and moral character into the logic-bubble of Free Market speculation and finance — is a fungal idea among homo sapiens that causes them to destroy the environments and biodiversity of Planet Earth in frenzies of mineral extraction, overfishing, forest clearing, wildlife extinctions and soil depletion, so as to monetize these bites out of Nature for immediate short-term gains, while in the process spewing out enormous quantities of carbon dioxide and methane gases into the atmosphere (~12GtC/y, or ~42GtCO2/y, [4]) as the exhaust pollution of their so-called “economy.” All of this is hidden under the phrase “global warming” (“anthropogenic global warming” if you want to be a smarty-pants).

The rate of humanity’s CO2 and methane emissions is increasing annually, and global warming and ocean acidification (killing the marine food chain) are accelerating. If left unchecked, anthropogenic global warming will ultimately warm the planet and sterilize the oceans, so that the climate is too hot, too parched and Earth too food-depleted for our species to continue in its current numbers, and ultimately at all (if still here, we will know the ultimate trajectory of our fate within 2 centuries).

Is capitalism our Ophiocordyceps unilateralis, a mass psychosis causing our species to self-limit or even self-destruct, to open evolutionary space for other species (probably of bacteria) to evolve and explode their populations to dominate Life-On-Earth? Is it all part of Nature’s unfolding — or “God’s Plan” as the ‘intelligent design’ religious cultists would call it — to prod homo sapiens off the stage of Life-On-Earth after its scripted 200,000 year scene?

Why not? It is certainly hard to see humans as entirely self-actualizing rational beings who make logical decisions on the basis of scientifically verified facts, given the obvious zombification of so many of them by the mere presence of SARS-CoV-2 virus particles in the environment, and by the immateriality of the idea of ego-centric capitalist wealth that drives them wild.

Democratic Party

Tracing its heritage back to Thomas Jefferson and James Madison’s Democratic-Republican Party, the modern-day Democratic Party was founded around 1828 by supporters of Andrew Jackson, making it the world’s oldest active political party.

The wikipedia entry for the Democratic Party gives this capsule summary of its history:

Before 1860, the party supported limited government and state sovereignty while opposing a national bank and high tariffs. In the late 19th century, it continued to oppose high tariffs and had bitter internal debates on the gold standard. In the early 20th century, it supported progressive reforms and opposed imperialism. Since Franklin D. Roosevelt and his New Deal coalition in the 1930s, the Democratic Party has promoted a social liberal platform. Well into the 20th century, the party had conservative pro-business and Southern conservative-populist wings; following the New Deal, however, the conservative wing of the party largely withered outside the South. The New Deal coalition of 1932–1964 attracted strong support from voters of recent European extraction — many of whom were Catholics based in the cities. After the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965, the core bases of the two parties shifted, with the Southern states becoming more reliably Republican in presidential politics and the Northeastern states becoming more reliably Democratic. The once-powerful labor union element became smaller after the 1970s, although the working class remains an important component of the Democratic base. People living in urban areas, women, college graduates, and millennials, as well as sexual, religious, and racial minorities, also tend to support the Democratic Party. [5]

The resentments over the diminished impunity of White Supremacy because of the Civil Rights Movement and Civil Rights legislation in the 1960s, along with the societal trauma of the Vietnam War, and the reactionary backlash to the law-and-order chaos spawned by antiwar sentiment and the massive routine racial discrimination, economic privation and violence against Blacks (e.g., the assassination of Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. in April of 1968), which sparked major rioting in numerous cities, along with the economic recession of the 1970s, fueled the expansion of a reactionary, or “conservative” mindset that exploded out of the head of the body politic and into full view like an Ophiocordyceps unilateralis hyphae in the person of Ronald Reagan, the U.S. President inaugurated on 20 January 1981.

The neoliberal regime established by Margaret Thatcher in the United Kingdom in 1979, and Ronald Reagan in the United States in 1981, continues to this day: few restraints on corporate capitalist exploitation of the public commons (and human misery), with always diminishing support for human needs, and with economic austerity imposed on the wage-dependent public to pay for the enrichment of the wealthy.

To compete against the Republican Party — the shining knights of neoliberalism — in U.S. electoral jousts, the Democratic Party turned to new young leaders, beginning with Bill Clinton (U.S. President from 1992 to 2000), who led it away from concentrating on the defense and representation of the wage-dependent public and instead to seek corporate funding to underwrite the political campaigns and lush careerism of its leadership elite, who instead devoted themselves to facilitating the capitalist ambitions of their patrons.

So, the Democratic Party became the Republican Party of Dwight D. Eisenhower (U.S. President from 1952 to 1960, when the top income tax rate was 90%), while the Republican Party of Eisenhower hardened into the neofascist party of Ronald Reagan (1980-1988), George H. W. Bush (1988-1992), George W. Bush (2000-2008), and Donald Trump (2016-?).

The continuity of the neoliberal regime in the U.S. since 1980 was maintained by the post-1990 corporatist Democratic Party during its command of the White House during the administrations of Bill Clinton (1992-2000) and Barack Obama (2008-2016). In fairness to the Democrats, they were sometimes a little less rabid about forcing socially and behaviorally oppressive policies on the public (of AIDS-denial, and on: birth control, abortion, pollution and unionization, for example).

But, the electoral successes of the Democratic Party steadily declined — despite their acceptability to (or tolerance by) a wider range of Americans beyond Paled-Faced Capitalists — as they became less distinct from the Republican Party by their adherence in both word and deed to the neoliberal orthodoxy. Barack Obama even cited Ronald Reagan as one of his heroes and role models, instead of pissing on the memory of Reagan’s public evil (e.g., PATCO, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Guatemala, Grenada, South Africa, Iran-Contra) as any truly decent socially-conscious human being would want to do.

So, is the Democratic Party of the last 30 years a political Ophiocordyceps unilateralis fungal agent whose purpose is to zombify the struggling and not-always-alert wage-dependent American public to allow itself to be remorselessly eaten out for the perpetuation of neoliberal capitalism, which is only enjoyed by a select population of privileged societal Alcon Blue Butterflies (until Biosphere Environmental Collapse occurs)?

If the Democratic Party is intent to continue as a reliable electoral failure, despite toadying zealously for the corporatocracy (e.g., Hillary Clinton, Joe Biden, Kamala Harris, Nancy Pelosi, Chuck Schumer, Diane Feinstein), then the very least it could do would be to regain its self-respect and fight vigorously in the defense of the wide spectrum of individuals in the wage-dependent public whom it has long abandoned.

As the reelection yesterday (3 November 2020) of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ilhan Omar, Rashida Tlaib, and Ayanna Pressley, along with the election of Cori Bush in Missouri clearly shows, the championing of that public and their human needs against the predations of neoliberal capitalism and its attendant racism can have resounding electoral successes, because: “When you stand for nothing, you fall for everything.” [6]

Once an American mind has been seized by the brain-fever of neoliberal economics, why would it vote for its feeble imitation as the Democratic Party when it can get “the real thing” from the Republican Party, with the added bonus of being able to happily liberate repressed bigotries into the expansive shit-hole of Trumpofascism?

Death-Grip by Fungal Ideas

Our climb to escape from geophysical and socio-economic realities to latch onto self-terminating delusions, with both personal and societal death-grips, is caused by the zombification of people, our societies and our species into self-destructive behaviors for the benefit of external parasites, by the action of fungal ideas — mindless and non-material — : our fantastical and selfish ideas about the COVID-19 pandemic, about capitalism and neoliberal economics with its global warming denial, and about acquiescing to the shameless careerism and anti-democratic machinations of the corporatist ideologues of the Democratic Party.

Because those parasitic agents plaguing us can only infect us virtually — through ideas — unlike the actual materiality of the Ophiocordyceps unilateralis fungus and the SARS-CoV-2 virus particles, they can be most easily defeated by simply changing our thinking, which is done without fuss by people of rational mind who are disciplined, patient and intelligent. Unfortunately, not everybody is so constituted, and many people are purely reactive, as stated by Harmless’s Principle: “People don’t change until they feel pain.” [7] But this is not physiologically necessary, to the extent that cognition is free of disease and free-will has scope to operate.

We can act in our own best self-interests in ways that blend into decent life-affirming people-centric societies and political-economic government policies, that in turn mesh harmoniously with the workings of Nature to continue our species indefinitely, with sustainable energy and food production (e.g., Regenerative Agriculture [8]) in collaboration with the continuation of a bounteously biodiverse Life-On-Earth; at least until geophysical or astrophysical forces that are truly beyond human influence (e.g. another Chicxulub Meteor, or the Sun’s expansion into a Red Giant) dictate otherwise.

So I ask that you look upon the old saying “clearing the cobwebs from my mind” with a new more critical and motivated intent.

Notes

[1] Fungus Makes Zombie Ants Do All the Work
[A tropical fungus has adapted to infect ants and force them to chomp, with surprising specificity, into perfectly located leaves before killing them and taking over their bodies]
31 July 2009
Katherine Harmon
https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/fungus-makes-zombie-ants/

[2] Ophiocordyceps unilateralis
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ophiocordyceps_unilateralis

[3] Phengaris alcon
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Phengaris_alcon

[4] GtC/y and GtCO2/y
GtC/y = giga metric tons of carbon per year = 10^9 tonnes/y of C;
GtCO2/y = giga metric tons of carbon dioxide per year = 10^9 tonnes/y of CO2.

[5] Democratic Party (United States)
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Democratic_Party_(United_States)

[6] “If You Don’t Stand for Something, You’ll Fall for Anything”
https://quoteinvestigator.com/2014/02/18/stand-fall/

[7] Ann Harmless

[8] Kiss The Ground
https://kisstheground.com/

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The Perennial Smoldering of America’s Reichstag

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The Perennial Smoldering of America’s Reichstag

“Historian Timothy Snyder warns that America is already in its own ‘slow-motion Reichstag Fire’” proclaims a current article in Salon. [1]

“Obviously, we are in a slow-motion Reichstag Fire right now. That is what is happening. Donald Trump is not as skilled as Hitler. He doesn’t work as hard as Hitler. He doesn’t have the same level of confidence as Hitler, but he’s clearly looking for that Reichstag Fire emergency. Trump tried to make Black Lives Matter into that emergency. ‘Antifascists’ and ‘thugs’ and ‘law and order’ and so on is part of that effort. Donald Trump keeps trying to make the Reichstag Fire work.” — Timothy Snyder.

I have heard this idea being applied to U.S. politics for some time (since Reagan). I think it reflects the fear of many people, which arises as their previously taken-for-granted assumptions of the general benevolence of U.S. institutions and the U.S. political elite as a whole, drop away in the face of scandals and public disclosures of the obviously cruel and predatory nature of U.S. foreign and even domestic policy goals.

The first major incident of this sort since WWII was the Vietnam War: the Tonkin Bay Incident deception, the Pentagon Papers, My Lai, the Secret Invasion of Cambodia, Agent Orange; and then the many negative incidents of domestic fallout from all this: the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr., urban riots, Watergate, the exposure of the CIA assassination plots (the Senate’s Church Committee), COINTELPRO (domestic spying), and the FBI/Police assassination of Black Panther Party people.

So, I think that widespread loss of trust in the U.S. Government by sectors of the population that still believed in “our way of life” (so, not for Black America, which was only too well-acquainted with immunized murderous racist policing; nor Native Americans) became a permanent feature in the public consciousness, and is expressed differently depending on the people involved: pro-gun idiocy by ignorant people being one example, and “Reichstag Fire” alarms by intellectual liberals and academics being another.

I think that the truth of the matter is that the actual purposes and goals of government policies, and the intentions of the insiders who instigate and enact those policies, have always been the same: the enrichment of capitalists and the protection of their wealth, with the costs of these actions being passed on to the population at large in the form of taxes and the manning of the military for “doing the dirty work” and providing the necessary bleeding and fatalities required to “get the job done.” I think the American people are by and large a “human shield” to the “owners” who run the whole government-economy game. The comedian George Carlin famously said: “It’s one big club, and you ain’t in it!”

So, while I agree that Trump and his cult followers are a real low point in American history, and threats to the wellbeing of most of us, I don’t think a Biden-Harris administration will be dramatically different as regards the substance of American foreign and domestic policies. Joe Biden and Kamala Harris are where they are today because they are fully vetted as reliable agents for that “Inner Party” (from Orwell’s “1984”). Both are personally invested in (careerism) and fully compromised (bought) by the Wall Street Inner Party (WSIP), to work in the management bureaucracy that continues the long-standing mission of corporate-owned government: the enrichment of capitalists and the protection of their wealth.

The WSIP is finding that Trump is too unstable and too incompetent for their convenience; he is spoiling the smooth continuation of their profitable operations. They want someone like Obama, a smooth operator to calm the masses so they do not interfere with the status quo which in no way benefits them. Obama was superb at doing that job. Kamala Harris is just a shameless careerist who is hoping to graft Hillary Clinton “femaleness” to Barack Obama “Blackness” into a winning (for her) public image. She smiles today because Biden’s nod indicates that the WSIP has bought into Kamala’s “business proposal” of the utility of her personal branding (or subterfuge, as far the public good is concerned).

If the November 3 election proves to be a disaster for the Democratic Party, then the WSIP will soldier along profitably, as it is always assured of doing, but with a rockier and much crasser political “leadership,” and thus a more restive public. If Biden-Harris win decisively as many hope, then the WSIP will gain the benefit of Biden-Harris being a political soporific for the masses, which would make WSIP business-as-usual predatory profiteering easier to carry on and map out into the long term.

At this point, all those elected and appointed political insiders are scrambling to work out their own careerist bailouts or takeover plans, depending on how they see themselves positioned with respect to their public images and their approval ratings with the WSIP. So, for sure the cast will change for 2021, but by how much is not yet clear. The play, on the other hand, will not change in any fundamental way, though clearly a Biden-Harris win would require them to make some highly visible, but not necessarily significantly revolutionary changes: bones tossed to the chained-up dogs barking out in the rain.

Relative to berserker Trump, whatever palliatives (I’m sure weak ones) Biden-Harris might toss out would still be welcome. But they will be items that the WSIP would be prepared to “pay” in exchange for a return to the “stability of business conditions,” under a Biden-Harris (or, Obama III) Administration, a stability (of guaranteed subsidies and political protection) that they so highly prize for their maximum ROI and ease of planning (“investing”).

My view on the election of 3 November 2020 is this: The time now is to plug the holes in the boat to keep it from sinking, only after that can you decide which direction to row it in. Beyond that, no matter who you vote for, with whatever idealism and revolutionary vision you wish to have, you will get the same functional result: the WSIP owned government will focus its awesome powers, foreign and domestic, on the enrichment of capitalists and the protection of their wealth.

To change THAT, will require much much more continuing social and political activism and agitation for a long long time. Dumping Trump and his gang is a necessary first step to begin advancing that idealistic process, and without doubt would be a major morale boost far and wide. So we should all make sure it happens, but have no illusions about it’s depth of change of the American reality. Having that kind of voting attitude requires maturity: the having of a realistic outlook enabling pragmatic action without falling into despair and having childish tantrums of frustration over being denied the immediate gratification of realizing revolutionary utopian dreams at the push of a button.

And if, in the extremely unlikely event that we really do suddenly drop into a new 1933-style Nazi free-fall, then we will just have to fall back on our personal moral character, and work out our various paths toward lives of merit, as so many others were challenged to do throughout human history.

Thus, I agree we should have intelligent, realistic concerns about the course of American politics, but I think it counterproductive and personally harmful to have exaggerated irrational fears. Whatever happens (or doesn’t happen) during the November 3 pivot, maintaining your equanimity and psychological strength are essential for carrying on with your life.

[1] Historian Timothy Snyder warns that America is already in its own “slow-motion Reichstag Fire”
(Salon talks to Snyder about how Donald Trump uses pain and suffering as a weapon to remain in power)
Chauncey DeVega
October 18, 2020
https://www.salon.com/2020/10/18/historian-timothy-snyder-warns-that-america-is-already-in-its-own-slow-motion-reichstag-fire/

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